Facing the Ugly Truth

 
 
By Jean Van Rensselar  |  Posted 2009-09-15
 
 
 

You probably think that most companies have a blog by now. In fact, according to recent research, only about 15 percent of Fortune 500 companies have external blogs.

The ideal corporate blog evolves in an atmosphere of trust in which posters don’t feel intimidated or stifled. But encouraging openness while discouraging damaging remarks is a difficult tightrope to walk.

There are two kinds of company blogs–internal and external. There is far less legal risk with an internal blog, mainly because most employees don’t post negative remarks for fear of recrimination.

Internal blogs, which are usually accessed via the company’s intranet, can be viewed by all employees. Since staff members use them as meeting sites and forums for e-mail discussions, these blogs allow a diverse range of participants. Internal blogs are useful for knowledge sharing, project management, and broad communication among teams and across sites.

In contrast, publicly available external blogs allow customers, business partners, employees and spokespeople to get information quickly, share opinions and ask questions. External company blogs are also one of the media’s top tools for finding news and feature ideas about an organization, which can sometimes make company executives cringe.

Before deciding whether to have a public-facing blog, ask yourself if your customers and prospects generally read blogs. If not, then why would you need one? Well, blogs do provide some clear benefits, including search engine optimization (SEO), maximum media and public relations attention, collaborative product development, improved customer assistance, the ability to conduct polls and receive feedback easily, and improved customer and prospect relations.

In addition, both internal and external blogs offer increased openness, as well as direct, timely communication. They are also a relatively inexpensive way to gather credible information.

Before you get too excited about blogs’ benefits, here’s the ugly truth about their risks. We’ve all heard blog horror stories, in which blog posts have caused public relations or legal nightmares. But it is possible to avoid many of the mistakes other companies have made. You can do so by taking the following steps:

      1. Establish an ironclad blogging policy.

      2. Educate all employees.

      3. Enforce the policy.

      4. Closely monitor the blog.

    5. Respond quickly to negative comments.

Basically, it’s all about monitoring and enforcement. You can control many—but definitely not all—risks. Most of the “uncontrollables” involve legal risks that can never be completely eliminated.

Only you can decide whether the benefits of having a corporate blog outweigh the exposure it creates.

The risks include litigation exposure, security violations, e-discovery violations (failing to retain records), reputation assaults and regulatory violations.

Here are some other factors to consider before you start blogging:

Blog posts are permanent. Once it’s posted, inaccurate, incomplete, defamatory content and confidential information will live forever on the Internet.

Blogs take time. Creating posts and monitoring content takes time, and internal blogs, in particular, can waste a lot of employees’ time.

Blogs can send visitors away from your site. In order to be friendly to search engines and the blogging community, blogs need to include links to other sites. However, if your blog is part of your company’s Web site, do you really want to send visitors away?

On the upside, creating a blog will increase your SEO rank, attract media attention and increase your leadership profile—especially if you’re among the first in your industry to have a blog. Beyond this, there are no guarantees of any benefits. The risks, on the other hand, are guaranteed.

Now that you know both the benefits and the risks, don’t create a blog unless your target demographic blogs regularly; you see one or more clear benefits; and you are willing to set and reinforce policy, educate employees and diligently monitor content.

The bottom line? Blogs are great tools for some businesses, and yours may be one of them. But if it’s not, don’t create a blog.

Jean Van Rensselar is the owner of Smart PR Communications, a Chicago-based company that specializes in public relations and communications strategy, creation and implementation.